Review: Casa Noble Tequila, 2014 Re-Review

casa noble Bottle_Anejo_2014_final_cut

From time to time we like to revisit spirits we’ve spent time with in the past. Management changes. Production practices change. Formulations change. Climate changes. And stuff varies from bottle to bottle even when none of the above changes. Sometimes our reviews are identical. Sometimes they’re wildly different.

Today we look again at Casa Noble, a venerable ultra-premium tequila line that we last reviewed in 2009. Very little seems to have changed on Casa Noble’s end, and from my perspective, very little has changed too. My ratings are all the same, with one slight (yet watershed) upgrade for the masterful anejo.

You’ll note some slight packaging changes (the reposado bottle is no longer blue but is now clear; the anejo is still in its distinctive purple bottle), but otherwise I expect nothing much has been altered behind the scenes of these three tequilas. (Amazingly, prices seem to have fallen a bit in the last few years!) All are of course 100% agave and all are 80 proof.

New thoughts follow.

Casa Noble Crystal (Blanco) – Pungent on the nose, with deep, deep agave notes, white pepper, and cayenne. The body isn’t nearly the agave bomb you might be expecting. It is both sweet and peppery, but not really vegetal at all. Instead you’ll find notes of tart lemon juice, caramel sauce, and a touch of rhubarb. Very well crafted. Everything a blanco should be. A / $35

Casa Noble Reposado – Spends 364 days in French white oak, making this a very well-aged reposado. The nose has that trademark peppery pungency of the blanco, but with an undercurrent of stone fruit — peaches and apricots — to give it some balance. The body is very fruity, slight tropical notes atop lemon and oranges, plus notes of chocolate peppermints and ample wood-driven vanilla. It doesn’t drink nearly as leathery and “old” as my prior comments indicated, but perhaps that’s just my increased experience with tequila over the last five years talking. Still delightful, either way. A / $45

Casa Noble Anejo – Aged “to perfection” for two years in French white oak. Nicely dark, but not overdone. That peppery agave is still front and center on the nose, with more of a caramel/marshmallow character attempting to overtake it. The body shows that it’s a silky dessert sipper all the way. The palate starts with bittersweet chocolate and graham crackers, then hops to burnt caramel and dark brown sugar notes. The fruit is absent save for a little flamed orange peel, which plays nice with the molten chocolate cake character that bubbles on and on on the finish. A benchmark anejo that mixes a racy attack with a silky sweet finish. A+ / $50

casanoble.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal

del maguey Iberico

Del Maguey’s Pechuga Mezcal is legendary in the mezcal world, and justifiably so. For those not in the know, in Spanish, a pechuga is a poultry breast, commonly a chicken breast. Why would you call your mezcal Pechuga? Because it has a chicken breast in it.

How’s that? Del Maguey mezcel is distilled three times, and during the third distillation of Pechuga, a whole chicken breast (bones and all) is suspended in the air within the still. As the distillation progresses (a 24-hour process), the vapors interact with the chicken meat in a strange and incredibly compelling way. How anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but the proof is in the bottle — Pechuga is easily my favorite of Del Maguey’s increasingly vast lineup of single village mezcals.

What then is Iberico? If you’re up on your gourmet foodstuffs, you’ll recognize the name Jamon Iberico, a ham made of free-range, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs from Spain. Using your deduction skills you’ve probably figured out what Iberico Mezcal is by now: In lieu of a chicken breast, it’s made with an Iberico ham hanging in the still. A collaboration between Cooper and chef Jose Andres, it’s an equally bizarre and decidedly non-kosher approach to spirits production.

So, how’s it taste?

As with all mezcals, the nose is smoky, but here that pungent aroma takes on a curious scent of cigar smoke with fleeting undertones of mint chocolate. The body is beautiful. Racy with notes of cracked black pepper, the spicy body is tempered by a melange of flavors that include orange peel, grapefruit, nougat, and vanilla. That smokiness rushes back up on the finish, along with notes of camphor and incense. Complex with a load of flavors, yet extremely easy to sip on for hours, Iberico is nearly the same masterwork that Pechuga is — even though it doesn’t exactly remind you of Iberico ham at all.

Maybe I just need to enjoy a glass or two alongside some pata negra and see if that makes a difference…

100% agave espadin from Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. 98 proof.

A / $250 / mezcal.com

Review: Blue Nectar Tequila

blue nectar special reserve

Blue Nectar is a new brand producing three varieties of tequila from the Lowlands of Mexico. The three expressions are not the traditional trio you might be familiar with in the tequilaverse, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

All expressions are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – Intense bell pepper, jalapeno, and red chilis on the nose lead to a racy and spicy initial rush. This manages to settle down quickly to reveal some surprising layers of sweetness — light butterscotch and a bit of vanilla. You can’t keep that vegetal/pepper character down for long. It makes an overwhelming encore on this enigmatic — and slightly off-putting — spirit. B / $37

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado – Claimed to be “a unique blend of reposado and limited production extra anejo” tequilas, which puts this into a category of bizarre tequila recursion. Is Blue Nectar Reposado somehow blended with itself? No matter. The addition of some three-year anejo aside, this is a well-made reposado, offering a pleasing mix of rich agave, silky caramel, and gummy vanilla notes. Both the savory and sweet sides of this spirit are in balance here, giving it a punchy, peppery counterbalance to its sweeter side. Lots to like. A- / $40

Blue Nectar Tequila Special Reserve – You might presume this is a fancy name for Blue Nectar’s Anejo. You’d be wrong. It is actually reposado “tequila infused with natural spice flavor.” Said spices are not revealed, but they do include “vanilla, nutmeg, and orange peel, plus a hint of agave nectar.” The overall impact is a bit weird and hard to pin down. It’s a very light, almost fruity spirit, with notes of orange juice, banana, vanilla ice cream, and a dusting of agave spice on the back. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad product. In fact, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s harmless to the point of being nearly inconsequential. I’m not sure what Blue Nectar did to this spirit, but it ultimately did a bit of a disservice to the raw material. B- / $45

bluenectartequila.com

Review: 1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila

1800 milenio

1800 is a top notch 100% agave brand that’s been around for decades, and now the distillery is putting out a new extra anejo bottling called Milenio. 1800 last had Milenio on the market way back in 2000. For this second edition, the spirit is aged traditionally in American Bourbon barrels for five years, then — in a unique spin — finished for four months in former Cognac barrels.

The nose starts off with a rather traditional agave nose, somewhat sharp with fresh herbs, and a brisk, winey character I attribute to the Cognac finishing. Strangely, I also picked up whiffs of what I can only describe as chlorinated pool character, which is either a bizarre anomaly or part of a well-known problem associated with using chlorinated water to bring the spirit down to proof. Either way, it blows off over time.

The body’s largely in keeping with your finer extra anejo tequilas: Rich, layered caramel notes spread atop peppery agave and herb notes. The body does finally wend its way into some secondary characteristics, largely coming along on the finish, but it’s never terribly spicy at any point along the way. As with many extra anejos, the extensive wood regimen has largely shoved the agave into a supporting role, for better or for worse. But what is notable in that finish is a mintiness, almost mint chocolate-like in this spirit, which gives 1800 Milenio even more of a dessert character than most other (admittedly already digestivo-esque) XA tequilas. With all that said, it’s quite satisfying and easy to sip on, and a fairly good value in relation to many other extra anejos.

The bottle design is cute — a taller, elongated version of the iconic trapezoidal 1800 bottle — and comes packaged in a custom display box.

80 proof.

A- / $125 / 1800tequila.com

Review: Solana Tequila

Solana imageSolana is a new 100% agave budget tequila from the Los Altos de Jalisco region. Triple distilled, it certainly looks a lot more expensive than it is, with an upscale presentation. Available only in a silver/blanco expression (for now), we got a sneak peek at this new brand.

Lots of fresh agave, black and red pepper, and lemon notes on the sharp nose. The body follows in stride, bright with acidity and bold with spice. The substantial agave notes are well-integrated into a lightly sweet, mildly citrusy body. The finish is clean but racy, offering plenty of crispness. The sweet-meets-lemon kicker recalls a glass of lemonade with a cayenne rim.

Totally solid.

80 proof.

B+ / $22 / no website

Review: Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

hornitos Black Barrel Bottle Image

The world’s love affair with whiskey has now come… to tequila.

Say hello to Hornitos Black Barrel, a unique spin on an Anejo from the Sauza-owned distillery. The production process is on the complex side, so let’s let Hornitos tell the tale for us:

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila is redefining the premium tequila experience. Hornitos Black Barrel is a super smooth, triple aged, 100% agave tequila uniquely aged to embark distinct and complex whiskey notes. The tequila starts with 100% Hornitos Tequila, which is aged in traditional American Oak barrels [presumably ex-Bourbon barrels -Ed.] for 12 months. Once the soft, smooth, complex flavor of the Añejo tequila has been achieved, the liquid is placed in deeply charred American Oak barrels for four months to ensure that the tequila breathes through the caramelized layer of sugar, imparting the rich character, golden amber color and smoky notes traditionally found in whiskey. Lastly, the tequila is aged in specially-toasted American Oak barrels for two months to impart a creamier, vanilla character to add depth and complexity to the final spirit.

I’m still not entirely sure what all of that means, but the goal here is clearly to pump as much wood character (read: whiskey) into the tequila in as short a time as possible. Hornitos Black Barrel arrives on April 14 in limited release. Look for the black-frosted bottles.

Thoughts on both Black Barrel and a fresh review Hornitos Plata (last covered here (weakly) in 2007!), from which it is born, follow.

Hornitos Plata Tequila – Unaged, but it tastes like it has a bit of wood on it nonetheless. Fresh citrus (heavy on the lime) is on the nose, along with spicy agave. The palate is racy, but tempered by fruit. There are touches of pear, hints of mango, and hints of cinnamon, vanilla (that wood-seeming influence), and butterscotch. The body’s a little on the watery side, but overall it’s got a good kick and stands as a solid base from which to build some aged expressions, particularly at this rock-bottom price. 80 proof. A- / $17

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila – At the outset, it’s a wholly different experience than pretty much any tequila I’ve ever had. (See if you can fool your friends!) The nose is distinctly whiskey-like, but what kind of whiskey is hard to say. I get notes of raw wood (foremost), VapoRub, brandied cherries, and a ginger spice that recalls Christmas cake, punched up with chili powder. The body largely follows suit. Chewy with vanilla and nougat with touches of fresh charcoal, it’s got a whiskey kick but it can’t mask that agave, at least after it opens up in the glass. Over time, Black Barrel develops more of a traditional anejo character, where agave and vanilla notes are a little more balanced. Unconventional — and purists will hate it — but tradition aside, it’s pretty good stuff. 80 proof. A- / $30

hornitostequila.com

Review: El Jimador Tequila Blanco

el Jimador BlancoLooking to boost its presence off the lower tier of tequilas (albeit the still-100% agave ones), venerable El Jimador, the #1 selling 100% agave tequila in Mexico, is revamping its image with a new bottle design. The new look is sleeker and considerably more upscale… but what of the tequila within?

2014-era El Jimador (we tasted only the blanco) is a Lowlands spirit, unaged and named in honor of the jimador, a Mexican agave harvester. There’s modest pepper on the nose, with red chiles, lemon, coconut, and roasted meats. The body is a little all over the place, with notes of chile oil, grilled pineapple, more lemon, and a sultry agave/herbal character on the finish. There’s quite a bit of that funky meat character on the finish, but it’s not overwhelming or pungent.

All told, El Jimador is pleasant enough for journeyman cocktail duty, but the spirit lacks finesse, and the body is decidedly on the thin side. That said, it is fortunate to be lacking the back-of-throat burn so common in cheaper tequilas. So that’s nice.

80 proof.

B- / $22 / eljimador.com

Review: Abreojos Tequila Silver

abreojos tequilaColloquially “open eyes,” this Lowlands tequila is the only 100% agave tequila you’ll find that features an enormous eye-meets-lobster drawing on the label.

Inside the frosted bottle you’ll find a standard blanco (reposado and anejo, not reviewed, are also available from Abreojos), made sans resting or aging.

The spirit’s nose is initially heavy on earth tones. These blow off with some time and aeration. What remains is a fairly racy, spicy, and nutty tequila, surprisingly agave-forward given today’s focus on generally sweeter, milder blancos. Some lemon peel notes add interest.

The body follows in kind. Agave, dried herbs, and wet earth come first, then a broad lemon and citrus character to even things out. Boldly peppery — with crushed black peppercorns and red chiles — on the finish. The overall effect is rustic and just shy of bruising, a burly tequila for those that like their blancos to wear their pinas on their sleeve.

B+ / $30 / abreojostequila.com

Review: KAH Tequila

KAH Reposado

KAH is a tequila brand you won’t quickly forget, whether you’ve tried it or not. Bottled in painted ceramic skulls with Day of the Dead motifs on them, these spirits stand out so much they’re almost too pretty to open.

But what’s inside? It’s lowlands tequila, 100% agave, bottled in the typical varieties — but with a twist on reposado, which is boosted up to a massive 110 proof. Why 110 proof? I’m not sure, but the bottle is designed in the image of “El Diablo,” a fitting moniker I’m sure among those who’ve had a shot too many.

KAH isn’t cheap, but there’s an easier way to try out this curious tequila: A sampler kit of three 50ml bottles (which are mini versions of the painted ceramic ones) is just $30.

KAH Tequila Blanco – Enticing, with intense agave on the nose, mixed with notes of creme brulee and spiced, roasted almonds. On the tongue, a powerful array of elements expected and otherwise emerge. It starts with creamy marzipan before delving into sultry spices — clove-studded oranges and cinnamon cream — while folding in plenty of well-roasted, herbal agave. It comes together marvelously in a creamy body with a moderate and engaging finish with nary a second of bite. Nearly everything a blanco should be. 80 proof. A / $45

KAH Tequila Reposado – Aged 10 months in French oak. Surprisingly divergent from the blanco. Initially hot, the nose is a bit distant and obscured by alcohol, of which there is plenty in this oddball repo. The body is a strange symphony of flavors, beginning with hard candy and toffee notes, then taking you into various notes of nougat, red wine, whisky barrel, and sharp agave herbaciousness at the end. Almost the opposite of the blanco’s creaminess, it’s a bit of a tough nut to crack and not half as enjoyable. 110 proof. B / $60

KAH Tequila Anejo – Spends two years in American oak. Big caramel and vanilla notes on the nose, typical of a well-aged, quality anejo. The body sticks close to the formula, keeping the sweetness heavy and layering on a bit of milk chocolate as the finish starts to roll over you. Agave is largely absent here… only a residual slug of herbs on the nose proves that you’re not drinking rum. Still, all in all it’s a solid dessert-like experience. 80 proof. A- / $60

kahtequila.com

Review: Mezcal El Silencio

El Silencio MezcalEl Silencio is a new brand of premium mezcal, produced in small batches in Oaxaca from, per the distillery notes, a “blend of 100% wild agave using 10- to 12-year-old plants.” It’s then double distilled and bottled, sans aging. The name is indeed a reference to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The nose is bright and big: lemon odds with hefty smoke character. No wallflower like some more muted spirits, this is a mezcal that makes its presence known from the start. The body is even more powerful, offering more of that citrus character and touches of cinnamon and vanilla. But again the raw smokiness is palpable. It tastes the way you smell after coming back from a night-long campfire on the beach, all wet smoke and salty air clinging to you. The finish strains under its own weight, singing the throat

Beyond that, complexities are tough to find. The smoke character pushes them all aside. That’s not a bad thing — there are plenty of drinkers out there who enjoy this level of intensity (and I do as well from time to time)… but it does come at the cost of nuance.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #0640.

B / $79 / mezcalelsilencio.com